College Basketball: 10 Biggest Rivalry Games We're Still Looking Forward To
As college basketball turns into the home stretch, many of the sport's most celebrated rivalries are gearing up for their second rounds of 2011-12. If some of these rematches are anything like their original versions, college hoops fans are in for a treat.
Duke stole all the headlines last week by stunning North Carolina with a buzzer-beating three in Chapel Hill.
Offensive fireworks were also the order of the day for Missouri, which recaptured a share of the Big 12 lead by toppling Kansas on Marcus Denmon’s nine-point spurt in the final minutes.
Both of those matchups will get encores before season’s end, and they’re not the only high-stakes, high-intensity confrontations to be found in the season’s final weeks. Herein, a chronological look at the 10 best rivalry showdowns left on the regular-season schedule.
February 13: Kansas at Kansas State
After starting the season strong, the Wildcats have faded in Big 12 play with losses to Oklahoma (twice) and Texas. Still, Kansas State has been a lot tougher in Manhattan than on the road, and the Jayhawks can’t afford to look past this matchup.
Kansas State’s undersized frontcourt is tough as they come, but they’ll need foul-prone junior Jordan Henriquez to stay on the floor and counter some of the Jayhawks’ length.
If that happens, Rodney McGruder and the K-State backcourt—a deeper unit than their Kansas counterparts—will give Bill Self’s team all it can handle.
February 18: Ohio State at Michigan
When Michigan State took down the Buckeyes in Columbus last weekend, the Big Ten race became up for grabs.
Ohio State shares the lead with the Spartans for now, but rival Michigan is just a half-game behind, and can vault into first place by beating OSU in Ann Arbor.
Ohio State won the first meeting by dominating the glass and keeping the Wolverines’ scary collection of perimeter shooters in check.
The Buckeyes will presumably own the boards again, but don’t be surprised if Stu Douglass or Zack Novak gets hot from the outside and propels Michigan to a last-second upset.
February 23: Louisville at Cincinnati
As usual, the concentration of talent in the Big East has left teams in the middle of the pack scrambling for postseason spots.
One such squad is Cincinnati, sitting at 7-5 in Big East play and trailing longtime rival Louisville by one game in the standings.
The Cardinals, who have bounced in and out of the national rankings all season, will be playing for a tournament seed, but Fifth Third Arena isn’t an easy place to win.
If junior point guard Cashmere Wright can handle the Louisville press, the Bearcats could score a much-needed quality win here.
February 23: Duke at Florida State
Nothing can outshine Duke’s rivalry with North Carolina, but the Blue Devils have picked up another conference nemesis in recent years in the form of the Florida State Seminoles.
Leonard Hamilton’s squad has already won in Durham this season, and the Tucker Center in Tallahassee has been a house of horrors for Duke, with three No. 1-ranked Blue Devil squads losing on that floor in the last decade.
Florida State is unlikely to match its absurd 54 percent shooting night from the season's first meeting, but Duke’s spotty perimeter defense will still need to step up to avoid a sweep.
Look for Ryan Kelly—hamstrung by foul trouble in the first game—to step up as he did in beating North Carolina, and key another Duke victory in this one.
February 25: Syracuse at UConn
To say that the Huskies have been erratic this season would be a gross understatement.
Ranked for much of the year thanks to performances such as a 67-53 rout of Notre Dame in South Bend, UConn has now dropped six of seven to fall to 5-7 in conference play (and out of the Top 25).
As Shabazz Napier and company try to salvage a flagging tournament resume, a win over conference front-runner Syracuse would be a major step forward.
With scoring options inside (mammoth freshman Andre Drummond) and out (sweet-shooting sophomore Jeremy Lamb), UConn is more of a threat than its record would indicate to hand Jim Boeheim what would be only his second loss of the season.
February 25: Missouri at Kansas
The final regular-season installment of the Border War (at least in its current form as a conference rivalry) will have even higher stakes than usual.
Kansas is battling for the Big 12 title as usual, but after falling in Columbia earlier this month, the Jayhawks find themselves tied with the Tigers for the conference lead.
Mizzou survived a monster game from Thomas Robinson (25 points, 13 boards) to win the first meeting, but outlasting the Jayhawks’ enormous size advantage will be even tougher in Lawrence.
Expect the KU defense to cool off Missouri’s shooters just enough to eke out a narrow win.
March 3: North Carolina at Duke
It’s going to be hard-pressed to match the instant-classic conclusion to last week’s barn-burner, but the Duke-UNC rematch will have even more riding on it.
With these two teams looking more and more likely to remain tied for the ACC lead, the loser will probably forfeit any chance of a No. 1 seed in March (regardless of the outcome of the conference tournament).
Even at home, the Duke defense has little chance to improve on its scattershot performance from the first meeting.
Tyler Zeller and John Henson will control the paint again. Though, Austin Rivers will do the same on the perimeter to make for another razor-thin margin and, likelier than not, another Blue Devil victory.
March 4: California at Stanford
The Pac-12 has been farther off the national radar than usual this year. A terrible performance in the early part of the season knocked the conference out of the national rankings altogether.
Still, Stanford and Cal have one of the great rivalries in all of college sports, and (for a rarity) it looks likely to impact the Pac-12 race.
Although Aaron Bright and the Cardinal have fallen well out of contention, senior Jorge Gutierrez has Cal holding a share of first place in the conference.
Stanford would like nothing better than to close a lost season by knocking its hated rivals out of the top spot—a goal that won’t be out of reach if leading scorer Josh Owens closes his career on a high note on senior night in Palo Alto.
March 4: Indiana at Purdue
Uncharacteristic cracks in Matt Painter’s hard-nosed defense have left Purdue at a mere 6-6 in Big Ten play.
The Boilermakers are squarely on the bubble, and their season-ending showdown with the archrival Hoosiers could make or break their tourney hopes.
The first meeting between these two teams was a laugher for IU because the Purdue offense stalled.
Even if the Boilermakers' scoring bounces back at Assembly Hall—no mean feat—Purdue will need Robbie Hummel to come up huge in his final regular-season game if they want to have any chance to score the upset.
March 4: Kentucky at Florida
Few teams have been consistently able to challenge Kentucky’s hegemony in the SEC, but the Gators certainly qualify.
Although (like everyone else) they couldn’t stand up to the Wildcats at Rupp Arena a week ago, look for Florida to make a much better showing in Gainesville.
The Gators are one of the only teams in the country who might be even stronger on the perimeter than Kentucky, as star freshman Bradley Beal (14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds a night) has fit in seamlessly with veterans Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker.
If 6’9” Patric Young can put up any kind of fight in the middle against Anthony Davis, Billy Donovan’s team could finish the season on a serious high note.